Everyone deserves to spend time with someone they can love and support. In turn, you also deserve to be loved and supported. The fulfillment that comes from a genuine, honest, deep connection with another person really makes one’s life complete.
So, I think we can all agree that relationships are pretty important in our lives, right? If that’s the case, then we really should be spending time making sure that we work towards making them healthy and long-lasting.
Maybe this is something you’ve been wondering about how to do but don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve already started but aren’t sure where to go. No matter where you are in your personal relationships, there’s always something you can do.
Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
Building a lasting relationship isn’t too complicated, but it also isn’t easy. It takes dedication, commitment, and equal amounts of work from both partners.
So how can we make a relationship better?
Run it like a business.
By using the principles found in business and management, you can create a relationship that minimizes drama, promotes good, healthy communication, and makes sure you both make each other happy.
Like a business, your love life can benefit by:
Clearly defining expectations when you start
Openly and honestly communicating
Negotiating terms you don’t agree on
Holding each other accountabe when things go wrong
As a result, you should have a stronger connection with your partner by having honest conversations about how you can both take care of each other.
* * *
What is a relationship, exactly?
The Cambridge Dictionary offers a few definitions for the word, “relationship.” There are so many definitions because there are so many types of relationships.
No one lives in a vacuum. Most of our lives are defined by the relationships we create with others. The one that works best for what we’re discussing today is:
“A relationship is the way two or more people are connected, or the way they behave toward each other.” — Cambridge Dictionary
By using this definition as a starting point, we can say that a relationship is similar to a contract.
This definition could be applied to any type of relationship. In this case, we’re going to think of it in terms of a romantic relationship.
The keywords in this definition are, “the way they behave toward each other.”
How will you behave toward your partner? How will your partner behave toward you? Your goal should be to have a relationship where both you, and your partner, feel like you are contributing to each other’s success and are taken care of.
* * *
Define clear expectations for your role in the relationship
When running a business, setting clearly defined roles and expectations is more about day to day operations. Who is going to handle the finances? Who is going to be in charge of promotion? Who is going to do the hiring/firing? Who will make decisions when there’s an emergency?
These are the things that a business plan and contract would address.
A contract sets clear terms between two parties. Both parties have needs. The contract states what those needs are and what each party should do to meet those needs.
The better both parties meet each other’s needs, the stronger their relationship will be.
In a business setting, this would involve something transactional. Like a company expects an employee they hired to perform a certain task. In turn, that employee expects to get paid when it’s done. If either side doesn’t meet these expectations, it changes the relationship.
This is something you’ll have to start thinking about after the first few dates. If you think your relationship is going somewhere and you’re ready to take it to the next level, this is one way to do it.
While you probably won’t need to have a super detailed level of planning in a romantic relationship, you should at least talk about what your expectations are of each other and the relationship.
Think big here. Be honest. Be real with yourself.
Don’t set expectations based on what others want for you, what you think you should want, or what you want to want.
If you’re not ready for a serious relationship, and you agree to one, you could do a lot of harm to your partner.
If you truly care about your partner, you need to be honest about your expectations.
Take some time to sit by yourself with your favorite beverage. Relax and think about where you see this relationship going within the bigger context of your life. Don’t just think about next week, think about the next three months, the next five years, and possibly longer.
Somethings you could address in this stage are:
- How often will you see each other?
- How will you handle conflicts?
- Are you already exclusive?
- Is this relationship short-term or long-term?
- How are you going to handle money?
- What do you expect from your partner on birthdays or holidays?
- Are there any events that are already in motion that could affect your relationship in the future?
Many people don’t take the time to really sit down and think about what they want. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll just frustrate everyone around you.
While you might be fine without thinking about your expectations, you don’t want to find out two years down the road that you were just doing what other people wanted you to do and now you resent them for it (and yourself for following along).
* * *
Honestly communicate those expectations to your partner
This is just as important as defining your expectations. Think about it. If you have created a list of things you expect from your partner, and they don’t know what those are, you are pretty much setting them up for failure.
Nobody can read your mind. If you want something, you have to say it.
I’ve heard people say, “If I have to tell my partner what to do, it takes the romance out of the situation. My partner should know what I want.”
While clearly expressing what you want may not fit into our idealized notion of what a romantic relationship is supposed to be, it’s the surest way to really get what you want.
Communicating what you expect from your partner in a healthy way gives them a roadmap to making you happy. If they do the same for you, you’ll know how to make them happy too. It’s a win/win!
Remember, communication isn’t a one-way street. Listening and understanding is more important than speaking.
Just as your partner has listened to you express your needs and expectations, you should also listen to what your partner needs and expects from you. Like with business, if you listen more than you talk you’ll be successful (we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, right?)
When you’re expressing your expectations, don’t be afraid to negotiate.
If you think your partner has set an unreasonable expectation for you, let them know (in a nice way). Addressing differences early on will lessen the severity of potential conflict down the road. Do your best to not try to minimize the other person’s needs and feelings. Treat each other with respect. Try to find some middle ground.
If you both find that you have vastly different expectations, it may be best for both of you to walk away.
Life is short, don’t waste time in a relationship that won’t get you what you want.
* * *
Use accountability to stay the course
So now that you’ve figured out what you expect from your partner and you’ve told your them, everything is all gravy, right? Almost! What good are expectations weren’t not held accountable for meeting them?
Accountability in business is usually about figuring out a system for what will happen when one party fails to meet the expectations in the contract.
This can include a wide variety of actions like a written warning, a reprimand, an end to the business contract, or someone being fired!
In a relationship, it’s a bit different.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a situation like, “You didn’t clean the cat’s litter box like I expected you to. Now you must be punished!” Unless you’re into that kind of roleplay (no judgments here).
This can be an unhealthy dynamic where one person becomes “the boss” and the other becomes “the employee.” The subordinate member of the party will always be working for the approval of the dominant one. The “boss” will resent the employee for having to always give direction. The “employee” will begin to resent the boss for always telling them what to do. The beauty of a true partnership will be lost.
In a relationship, accountability is about making sure that each of you are meeting the needs of the other.
Beyond holding your partner accountable for what you expect from them, it is often healthier and more beneficial for you to hold yourself accountable for meeting those expectations.
Don’t put the work of managing yourself onto other people.
If your partner expects you to take them out for a date once a week, do your best to make it happen.
If you wanted a small present or gesture when it’s Valentine’s Day and you didn’t get one, let them know that you’re not happy.
Again, the goal is to try to do this in a functional way. It’s OK to express your anger or disappointment, but you don’t want to fly off the handle and cause harm to your partner.
* * *
Start enjoying the rewards of your hard work
Now that you’ve done the hard work of planning your relationship, it’s time to enjoy it! After all, we should be spending time building up our relationship and our partner. This way, you and your partner can grow together, savor the good times, and help each other through the tough times.
When it comes to happiness in relationships, it’s all about communication. Having honest, open, and respectful communication will do wonders for your day to day interactions. It can help you avoid conflict before it starts and resolve it when it occurs.
Never assume that what you want and what your partner wants are the same thing.
Also note that as people grow and change over time, so do their needs.
As you stay together for longer, it can help to come back to this process and have a conversation to make sure that both of your needs are the same and that your expectations haven’t changed.
By continually meeting each other’s needs over a sustained period of time, you can build a higher level of trust and a deeper connection.
No healthy relationship will be free of disagreements. However, if you follow these steps, your relationship should be stronger than whatever problems you may run into.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
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